Popular culture would have you believing that angering a Witch is a great way to get turned into a toad. After all, during the Middle ages in Europe Christian Demonologists often referred to toads as the “Witch’s Familiar” or as an “Agent of the Devil”. This likely resulted from the fac that frogs and toads were often found in swamps, stagnant pools, and other places that were generally considered unclean. Given their overall reputation for general icky-ness it is not surprising that they were thought to be used in Satanic rituals and that various body parts were said to be useful in creating malicious sounding spells and potions. Some even believed that a Witch could be identified by a birthmark shaped like a toad’s foot or that the image of a toad would be visible in the left eye.
Other myths told of using various secretions such as saliva to create flying potions and invisibility spells. During the St. Osyth Witch trials in England Ursula Kempe was accused by her son of having used her familiar, a black toad named Pigin, to cause illness in a young boy. It was claimed that Witches used toads as a poisonous ingredient in potions or that “Toad Soup” could be used to make it rain or otherwise control the weather.
All of this was, in fact, the result of Inquisitional propaganda spread by the Church as a tactic to vilify the old Pagan religions and to prosecute Witches with charges of heresy during the persecution years. The beliefs held by the Pagan’s themselves was, of course, quite the opposite.
Since ancient times frogs and toads have been highly regarded for their medicinal purposes. The liver was believed to be an antidote for all poisons whereas the lungs were the ideal ingredient to execute “the perfect murder of a wayward husband”. Other body parts were considered aphrodisiacs to aide in impotence and boost fertility. In many Shamanic traditions in the Americas hallucinogenic compounds secreted by toads were used in religious ceremonies for communing with the World Spirit and achieving self-transcendence. One of the most widely held beliefs was that a magical “Toad Stone” grew inside the head of a toad that, when mounted on a ring, would warn the wearer of the presence of poison.
The Egyptian Goddess of fertility, Heqet , was said to have the head of a Toad. The Egyptians revered frogs as a symbol of life and fertility as they would appear by the millions each year after the Nile’s annual floods. It has been speculated that she was later adopted by the Greeks who called her Hecate, the Goddess of Witchcraft.
In China the toad represents the yin, a symbol of rejuvenation and fortune. The Vietnamese believe that a croaking toad is a harbinger of impending rain. The Scottish hold that a toad is a token of good fate. In ancient Peru they are often seen on the artifacts of the Moche that were used in ritual prayers to animals.
A surprise encounter with a toad may, at first, be a bit alarming as they tend to appear out of virtually nowhere often surprising the observer. Toads appear to us when we are feeling unlucky and out fortune is about to turn. They can be a reminder or that we need to give back to the Universe or a challenge to do the right thing. Especially when that right thing may be somewhat distasteful, such as honoring an agreement with someone who you feel may have insulted you in some way.
The toad is here to remind us that we cannot succeed by sitting idly by. Toads must eat almost constantly and must be attentive to every detail in their lives as any missed opportunity may lead to suffering later. The toad tells us to examine our inner selves and to find a balance between what we have received and what we are giving back.
Image Credit:Jaunathan Gagnon